South Tacoma Way

Album: Furnace Room Lullaby (2000)
Play Video


  • She was born in Alexandria, Virginia, but Neko Case moved to the Tacoma/Seattle area in her teens. She's stated that she thinks of Tacoma as her hometown, so it's no surprise that Case wrote two songs dealing overtly with the city: "South Tacoma Way" and "Thrice All American."

    South Tacoma Way is one of the major roads in Tacoma, Washington. Besides Interstate 5, it's the primary road connecting the northern part of the city to the southern. Case's "South Tacoma Way" has the narrator, presumably Case herself, driving down South Tacoma Way and mourning what, on the surface at least, appears to be a lost love. The lyrics are somewhat cryptic, though, in that they refer to "paying respects to a dead man" and cross-streets bearing the name of this mourned figure. Whether that's purely a poetic device or if it hints at something of broader significance is hard to say.

    Case recalls driving a Rambler Classic 660 around this time, so perhaps that was the car she was cruising down South Tacoma Way in during the events of this song (assuming the song is based on a literal event).
  • This song, written as a straight narrative, doesn't have a chorus. The title doesn't come in until near the end.
  • Case's songwriting has always been a bit elliptical and abstract, so there's no guarantee that the events she's singing about happened in a literal sense. Still, one potentially interesting connection is that Bob's Java Jive is off South Tacoma Way. We know that Case worked there for a while, and perhaps she was driving to or away from the Jive while going through the emotions that she sings about in "South Tacoma Way."

    The Jive is somewhat famous and one of Tacoma's most recognizable roadside oddities. It's appeared in Roadside America, among other places. The building is shaped like a giant tea pot. It's been there for decades and is today one of the most beloved dive bars in Tacoma, full of interesting characters both savory and unsavory, as well as popular local music acts.

    Case is generally elusive, both personally and in regards to her music, so it's difficult to say exactly how literal "South Tacoma Way" is.

Comments: 1

  • Karol Teal from Northwest IllinoisOn this video, there is a comment that claims this is about an actual person who died in a car accident.
    Jennifer stephens
    7 years ago
    This song was written about my husband's best friend who died in a tragic ca accident.BTW it is JP not JD .
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Soul Train Stories with Stephen McMillian

Soul Train Stories with Stephen McMillianSong Writing

A Soul Train dancer takes us through a day on the show, and explains what you had to do to get camera time.

Danny Clinch: The Art of Rock Photography

Danny Clinch: The Art of Rock PhotographySong Writing

One of rock's top photographers talks about artistry in photography, raising funds for a documentary, and enjoying a County Fair with Tom Waits.

Leslie West of Mountain

Leslie West of MountainSongwriter Interviews

From the cowbell on "Mississippi Queen" to recording with The Who when they got the wrong Felix, stories from one of rock's master craftsmen.

Songs About Movies

Songs About MoviesSong Writing

Iron Maiden, Adele, Toto, Eminem and Earth, Wind & Fire are just some of the artists with songs directly inspired by movies - and not always good ones.

Ron and Russell Mael of Sparks

Ron and Russell Mael of SparksSongwriter Interviews

The men of Sparks on their album Hippopotamus, and how Morrissey handled it when they suggested he lighten up.

Michelle Branch

Michelle BranchSongwriter Interviews

Michelle Branch talks about "Everywhere," "The Game Of Love," and her run-in with a Christian broadcasting network.